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CITY COUNCIL

Regular Council Meeting Minutes 09/27/21

 

City of Reading City Council
Hybrid Regular Meeting
September 27, 2021
At the conclusion of the COW Meeting

Council President Waltman called the meeting to order at approximately 7:10 pm.

Due to COVID-19, the City changed the meeting format to a hybrid format with Council attending in-person at times and others attending virtually. In addition to providing the public with the ability to observe the Council meetings virtually and via telephone and view live on the BCTV MAC Channel 99 and Facebook Live, the Committee of the Whole and Regular Meetings will be shown in the Penn Room, in the first floor of City Hall – access the Penn Room using the doors on North 8th Street only. Public comment at regular meetings can occur virtually, in writing, via telephone or in-person in the Penn Room through Zoom. The meeting agendas are posted on the City's website 3 days prior to the meeting. All agendas include the Zoom meeting information (LINK and Dial In) to easily 'click and join' the meeting. Access meeting agendas at: https://www.readingpa.gov/council_minutes_agendas.

The invocation was given by Council President Waltman.

All present pledged to the flag.

There was an executive session held prior to the September 27th COW to interview Council Solicitor applicants.

ATTENDANCE

Council President Waltman - electronically
Councilor Sihelnik, District 1 - electronically
Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, District 2 – electronically
Councilor Ventura, District 3 – electronically
Councilor Marmarou, District 4 – in person
Councilor Reed, District 5 – electronically
Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz, District 6 – electronically
Solicitor F. Lachat – electronically
City Clerk L. Kelleher – in person
Auditor M. Rodriguez – electronically
Managing Director A. Amoros – electronically
Mayor Moran - electronically

Council Vice President Sihelnik announced that the Council President was excused from the meeting.

PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by commending Wanda Holdren, owner of WH Academy. Ms. Holdren will be connecting with the meeting later due to a work conflict.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Council President Waltman announced that there are two (2) citizens who supplied written public comment. Councilor Reed read the submissions, which are attached to this document.

Christina Reed, no address provided, stated that the Parking Authority’s (RPA) recent practice to mail parking violations rather than placing the ticket on the vehicle is not beneficial as the ticket is often delivered by the US Post Office after the 10 day deadline passes which increases the fine. She also took issue with the RPAs policy to not allow a payment plan until three (3) violations are issued and the dramatic increase in the parking fines at the beginning of 2021.

Steven McCracken, pastor at St. James Chapel, noted the rumor that the RPA plans to request parking enforcement on Sundays and he asked Council to reject that request if it comes forward.

APPROVAL OF THE AGENDA & MINUTES
Council President Waltman called Council's attention to the agenda for this meeting, including the legislation listed under the Consent Agenda heading, and the minutes from the September 13th Regular Meeting, the meeting summaries from the COWs held on September 13th and 20th. He stated that the Consent Agenda Resolution on the Egelman’s grant will be moved to the Resolution heading for separate consideration.

The minutes from the September 13th Regular Meeting, the summations of discussion listed and the agenda, including the Consent Agenda as amended, were approved by acclimation.

Consent Agenda
The Consent Agenda is designed to provide efficient approval of non-controversial legislation that does not require discussion/debate by giving approval via acclimation when the meeting agenda is approved. The President of Council will call Council’s attention to the list of Consent Agenda legislation at the meeting before action is taken, which allows Council to remove a piece of legislation for separate consideration.

A. Resolution 89-2021 – amending the CDBG Action Plan in the amount of $1.3M in CDBG funding to replace Engine 3 housed at the 3rd and Court Sts. fire station and to purchase a new apparatus to replace Engine 9 housed at the 9th and Marion Sts. fire station. The CDBG funding will be provided by closing out the previous year CDBG activities and reducing the funding for the delayed Department of Public Works projects and assist meeting the annual CDBG Timeliness Test requirement.

C. Award of Contract – for Engineering and Planning Review Services to Hawk Valley Associates, Mohnton, PA in the amount of $80,000.00

D. Award of Contract – 9th and Marion Fire Station for plumbing Vision Mechanical, Reading PA at the cost of $646,940

E. Award of Contract – 9th and Marion Fire Station for electrical to Hirneisen Electric, Reading PA at the cost of $1,048,000

F. Award of Contract – 9th and Marion Fire Station for general contracting to Perrotto Builders, Reading PA at the cost of $5,948,000

G. Award of Contract – 9th and Marion Fire Station for fire protection to Triangle, Carlisle PA at the cost of $127,900

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT
The managing director read the report provided in writing and attached to the agenda, in summary:

FROM THE MAYOR:

  • Mayor Eddie Moran attended the Santander Arena’s 20th Anniversary celebration where Mr. Michael Ehlerman, Chairman of the Berks County Convention Center Authority was honored on September 7th.
  • On September 10th, Mayor Moran attended a roundtable discussion regarding surrounding Amtrak’s plans to expand their service area to include three new routes. Those new routes are Reading to Philadelphia to New York, Scranton to New York, and Allentown to New York. All locations had rail service at one time.
  • Mayor Moran participated in the September 11th Memorial Service at City Park on Saturday, September 11th. The Mayor shared his experience as a first responder in New York City at the time of the attacks.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT:

  • The Community Development Department has begun developing plans for the City’s Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program for submission to HUD by September 24th.
  • The CD Department continues to work on process improvements within the Property Maintenance Department. Supervisors are implementing updated strategies that include a complaint list, response time tracking, actionable follow-up, and resident outreach regarding quality of life concerns.
  • The CD Department has completed amendments to the Certificate of Property Transfer Ordinance for residential properties. The ordinance is expected to be presented to Council at the September 27th meeting. The ordinance amendments include required notification to Property Maintenance 30 days ahead of settlement of residential property sales. PMI will then list any Code infractions and bring them to the attention of the buyer. PMI will also hold the landlord accountable for remedies of Code violations, including sidewalk and rear alley areas.

FINANCE:

  • The Finance Department’s Information Technology Division received some of the equipment that has been on backorder since January 2021. Supply chain delays are pandemic-related.
  • The Finance Department’s Citizen Service Center continues working on outstanding issues related to residential trash accounts. Trash accounts were provided to the Reading Area Water Authority (RAWA) for billing purposes. The CSC is now fielding calls from those that may not have noticed the change but are now discovering City trash service fees on their monthly RAWA bills. The CSC will continue to work with callers on their issues or concerns.
  • The Finance Department’s Accounting Division staff and Treasury staff have participated in on-site configuration sessions with Tyler Tech Project Manager and Consultant. These virtual sessions will continue as the chart of accounts are loaded into the new accounting system.
  • The Finance Department’s Grant Division is requesting a matching fund waiver from the State for the PA DCED Keystone Communities Program Development Grant. The grant will go towards the 800 block of Penn Street South Courtyard Improvement Project, which will improve seating, paving, landscaping, drainage, lighting, parking, ADA, and all courtyard walkway areas to this site.

FIRE:

  • The Fire Department will held the September 11th Memorial Service at the City Park Bandshell on Saturday, September 11th. The event honored the lives lost in the September 11th attacks and the first-responders who responded and assisted in the recovery efforts.

HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION:

  • As of September 3rd, HRC has:
    • 1040 total rent and utility assistance applications were received (an addition of 17 applications since last reported).
      • 1002 applications for rental assistance
        • 644 applicants were facing eviction
        • 266 applicants were not actively facing eviction
        • 93 applicants resided outside of the City but within the county.
      • 37 applications for utility assistance

LIBRARY:

  • The Reading Public Library’s *Summer@RPL ran for 10 weeks over the summer. A brief recap of the program is as follows:
    • 30 live virtual events were held, with 154 in attendance.
    • 128 recorded on-demand programs with 2707 in viewers.
    • 118 pop-up in-person events with a 1,324 attendees.
    • 4 outdoor events at the Southeast Branch Library with 34 attendees.
    • 2,621 Go Packs were distributed.
    • The Children’s Library at the Main Branch Library received great feedback from a mom who participated in the Summer@RPL program. She stated the reading BINGO challenges allowed her to learn about children's book offerings and expand the genres she shared with her three young children.
  • The Dr. Jerome Marcus Meeting Commons room at the Southeast Branch is now open for use. All connective technology is fully functional. A ceiling microphone and sound masking are currently on backorder. Once it arrives, the equipment will be added.

POLICE:

  • The Reading Police Department’s deployments to Pagoda and Riverfront areas have effectively reduced the quality of life issues and complaints. Deployments will continue for the foreseeable future.
  • The RPD continues to explore a variety of recruiting efforts. Lt. Lance Lillis has scheduled recruiting events at area colleges, universities, and other local events. For those interested, an entry-level civil service test is scheduled for October 23rd at Alvernia University.
  • RPD continues to engage the community by attending community forums, which recently have focused on youth violence.

PUBLIC WORKS:

  • Public Works has drained the reservoir at Egelman’s Dam which satisfied the DEP’s safety concern. PW is awaiting the receipt of the $350,000 DCED grant award agreement for the rehabilitation project to begin.
  • Public Works has completed Phase 1 of the City Sidewalk project. Phase 2 will proceed and focus on repairs and construction.
  • Public Work’s Clean City Coordinator began working with the Hope Rescue Mission on the areas of South of Penn and the Bingaman Street corridor.

Councilor Sihelnik thanked the mayor for accepting her invitation to attend tonight’s meeting. She inquired about the status of the grant to make improvements to the courtyard in the 800 block of Penn Street. The managing director stated that he will inquire tomorrow and follow up.

In the Chat, the finance director stated that the grant was received and that the administration is waiting to learn if the State is will eliminate the matching fund requirement.

Councilor Sihelnik stated that the Hope Rescue Mission’s Clean Team has started cleaning the south of Penn area. She inquired if this is supplemental to their work on Penn Street. The managing director reported that he will speak with the Hope Rescue Mission Executive Director and report back.

Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz noted the very successful event held yesterday to celebrate the Puerto Rican community. She suggested holding a similar event around the youth violence issue.

Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed noting her work with an outside organization to create a local program based on a youth violence program successfully used in Philadelphia. She encouraged the administration to apply for PCCD (PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency) funding around this issue.

AUDITOR'S REPORT

The Auditor highlighted the report attached to the agenda and distributed electronically. In summary:

Real Estate Transfer Tax Revenue - Update as of August 31, 2021
For the month of August, the City’s revenue is $1,078,840.76 for Real Estate Transfer Tax. As of August 31, 2021, $5,953,172.19 has been recorded in revenue for this line item which is the highest amount in the last five years. The Revenue for Real Estate Transfer Tax has already exceeded it budget target by $1,253,172.19. Since January of this year, 1,741 transactions for Real Estate Transfer Tax have been completed, of which 1,468 transactions were taxable and 273 were not taxable. See table 1.

Consequently, the City recorded $1,409,726.56 in revenue for properties sold for more than half a million threshold for this fiscal year.

Earned Income Tax and Earned Income Tax Prior (EIT) – Update as of August 31, 2021
As of August 31, 2021, the City’s General Fund recorded $14,283,460.15 in revenue for Earned Income Tax. Although about $2.1 million less in revenue was budgeted for 2021 compared to 2020, the City Earned Income Tax is slightly higher this year by $49,671.47 compared to the revenue recorded for the same period of 2020.

In 2015, the DCED granted $520,000.00 to the City and according to DCED guidelines a closeout audit is needed by October 28, 2021. The closeout audit will be conducted by Herbein & Company and the audit results will be provided soon after the completion of the closeout audit.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz inquired if the Auditor’s recommendations were considered when making the revenue projections for the 2022 budget. The Auditor noted the productive Revenue Estimating Committee meeting that took place on September 15th, where there was agreement on the utilization of real time revenue projections.

Councilor Sihelnik suggested that the Auditor monitor the expenditure of the ARPA funds to ensure that the Federal Guidelines are followed.

Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed noting the need for everyone to watch the Federal legislature as they consider shutting down Federal government operations and going into debt default.

REPORT FROM DEPT. DIRECTORS, BOARDS, AUTHORITIES, & COMMISSIONS.

None

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